May 19, 2016

PLUMgrid: Open Source Collaboration Speeds IO and Networking Development

PLUMgrid INC, which provides tools for OpenStack cloud providers, has been participating in the open source community since the company was founded in 2011. It started working with the Linux kernel community to create a distributed, programmable data plane and contributed to eBPF (extended Berkeley Packet Filter), a key component in building networks that are agile, fast and secure. eBPF has been upstreamed since Linux kernel version 3.16.

Despite this considerable open source experience, however, when PLUMgrid engineers and managers began to consider initiating a formal open source IO Visor project in 2014, they weren’t quite sure where to begin.

“We didn't know how to form a collaborative project,” says Wendy Cartee, VP, Marketing & Project Management, PLUMgrid.  “We weren't sure about the governance, how the different committees required to properly run the community would come together. So there were a lot of unknowns for us."

In 2015, the company turned to The Linux Foundation to help start IO Visor, a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project working on a set of open source IO and networking components which can be combined to build IO Modules for use in networking, security, tracing and other application functions in a datacenter.  Their work is contributing to the rapid advancement and innovation in evolving areas including cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV).

The Path to IO Visor

In the past, PLUMgrid’s open source participation happened naturally because their products are aimed at OpenStack environments, Cartee said.

PLUMgrid helps service providers and enterprises operationalize their OpenStack cloud virtual networks and SDN (Software Defined Networking) deployments with products such as

Open Networking Suite (ONS) and CloudApex, its companion monitoring platform.

Currently, PLUMgrid has deployed over 70 OpenStack-based clouds providing Communications as a Service (CaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), E-Commerce, Media and Entertainment Cloud, for companies around the world.  

In 2012 a group of PLUMgrid developers got involved in the Linux kernel community developing virtualization for I/O.

"They were driven by the appeal of dynamic IO modules that could be loaded and unloaded at runtime -- very compelling for virtualized environments," Cartee said.

Their involvement in the Linux kernel community and success in developing key technologies through that participation, led the company to discuss forming a community around IO Visor in early 2015, Cartee says.

"I have followed Linux for at least 10 years, and I was aware of The Linux Foundation for a long time," says Cartee. "But it wasn't until we saw this community interested in the kernel development aspects that we looked at officially reaching out to The Linux Foundation and explored the possibility of forming a community.”

More developers, actual working code

By involving The Linux Foundation in formalizing the IO Visor project, PLUMgrid has been able to  help coordinate all the work that is being developed by different  companies in this space and raise awareness among developers to evangelize the mission and the goals of the project, Cartee said.

"Previously, activity was pretty much ad hoc, there weren't any formal discussions," says Cartee. "There were a lot of contributions but it was a little more challenging to get more companies and communities to come together and talk about ideas, and prioritize use cases, talk about how various use cases can fit together, and talk about how other collaborative projects can come together and solve a much bigger problem. Formalizing the project really helped us advance the entire solution from that perspective."

Being part of a collaborative project that resulted in seeing ideas turn into actual working code was particularly gratifying, Cartee adds. "I think it's a new experience for most of us, who are used to the standards bodies of the past."

Now a Gold member of The Linux Foundation and a Silver founding member of OpenDaylight, PLUMgrid has learned how best to leverage the Foundation's pool of experience, including how to engage with developers and provide the tools they need in order to continue to innovate and drive contributions to the project.

"For us it has been an extremely positive experience. We are able to run much more quickly than if we hadn't formed a collaborative project,” Cartee said. “There's a much broader set of companies now becoming aware of the IO Visor project and who want to be part of contributing to it.”

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